During Brazil’s presidential debates, one candidate attracted a level of attention any long-shot might long for, except that it came as the result of what many are calling hate speech hurled against an LGBT community already vulnerable to deadly violence and discrimination.
RIO DE JANEIRO — In the historic city streets of Rio de Janeiro on Sept. 30, about 200 demonstrators and gay rights activists chanted “The fight is every day.” Uniting in their individual struggles and frustrations, the crowd took a stance against recent anti-gay remarks made by Levy Fidelix, a former presidential hopeful.
During a live televised national debate on Sept. 28, candidate Luciana Genro asked Fidelix about his views on same-sex marriage — which has been legal in Brazil since May 2013.
In response, Fidelix said gays need “psychological care,” and that treatment needs to be “very far away from us, because here it is not acceptable.”
“We are the majority; let’s confront this minority,” the former journalist and founder of the center-right Brazilian Labor Renewal Party added.
A conservative candidate polling at about 1 percent going into the debate, Fidelix’s comments prompted waves of controversy, with social media lighting up with mentions of the candidate. While some conservatives praised him for his “bravery,” a protest against his remarks was already being organized for Rio’s city center even before the debate had finished.
“Our rights are not up for bargain”
As the mostly young crowd holding signs and waving the rainbow flag of the LGBT movement closed a lane to traffic in Rio’s city center on Sept. 30, a range of emotions — sadness, anger, determination — could be felt at the peak of rush hour.
“I think one of the main messages that we need to send is that we’re not just a minority, and that we also deserve our rights… Our rights are not up for bargain… are not up for someone to use us as a political leverage of some sort. Our rights are ours and we demand them,” said Daniel Andrade, a university student and freelance software developer from Rio, who participated in the protest.
Andrade termed Fidelix’s statement a “very homophobic opinion” received “very negatively” by the LGBT community. He said that as Fidelix spoke at the Sept. 28 debate, planning was underway for protests in various cities, such as Porto Alegre and Juiz de Fora.
In his televised remarks, Fidelix had also targeted Avenida Paulista, the street where São Paulo’s annual gay parade is held, calling the situation there “a shame.” The event organized on Facebook for Sept. 30 on Avenida Paulista also contained a link to a public petition condemning Fidelix.
The protest and subsequent mob kiss were intended to show that the LGBT community does not accept rhetoric like Fidelix’s displayed so “casually” on television — especially not in a country like Brazil, where people are killed for their sexual orientation.
In 2011, the Gay Group of Bahia, a nationally known gay rights organization in Brazil, reported that 44 percent of the world’s murders of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community occurred in Brazil.
Fidelix also claimed that Brazil’s population of 200 million would shrink by half if same-sex marriage was “stimulated,” explaining in a vulgar statement that gay couples can not reproduce and contribute to the family cycle.
“(The candidates) have their time to give him a response but they didn’t, which was the saddest part of all… All of them, they kept talking and kept going on their economic issues and security issues,” Felipe Francisco, a medical student and activist in Rio, told MintPress at the Sept. 30 protest.
Describing Fidelix’s words as “really hateful speech,” Francisco took it as a personal attack and attended the protest with his partner.
“I don’t think that this protest was related to the elections at all,” he said, explaining that if such statements were made on television any other time, the protests would have still occurred.
Criminalizing violence, discrimination against LGBT community
As the crowd of gay rights activists and advocates held signs such as “Luta não é crime e direito” (“Fight is not a crime, it’s a right”) — a reference to the heavy-handed police response to past protests — many appreciated the opportunity to come together.
“We think that it is extremely necessary that homophobia — the hate speech — needs to be criminalized,” Isis Altgott, a physician, who is also part of the student youth movement of the United Socialist Workers Party, told MintPress.
While the LGBT movement has sought a federal law to ban acts of violence or discrimination against those in the LGBT community, it has been a tricky battleground. In 2013, for example, such a bill was rejected in Brazil’s Senate.
A law in São Paulo — where the Sept. 28 debate was held — bans acts of violence or discrimination against the LGBT community. It has since prompted Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot to open an investigation on whether Fidelix’s remarks constitute a criminal offense. According to the attorney general, as reported by the Brazilian news agency Folha, speaking out against gay marriage is protected by freedom of speech, but Fidelix’s words were “mobilizing hate speech” and inciting confrontation should not be tolerated.
Janot said that before the next course of action will be decided, an investigation will be opened and presented to Fidelix, giving him time to present a defense.
During Thursday’s presidential debate, the final debate prior to Sunday’s runoff, Eduardo Jorge, a Green Party candidate, declared that “the gentleman [Fidelix] overstepped all limits. I propose that he asks for forgiveness from the Brazilian people. The gentleman embarrassed Brazil.”
Amid the backlash created by his comments, Fidelix has refused to apologize and in a spurring of words, claimed that Jorge did “not have any morals.”
“You, above all, propose that young people use marijuana, you apologize for crimes, it is there in the legal code,” Fidelix told Jorge during the debate.
Yet for many at the protest in Rio, who held signs that read, “Homofobia é crime” (“Homophobia is a crime”), the battle continues. Many said they will still push against violence and discrimination every day. They gathered and organized their signs when the protest wrapped up, saving them for future events.